Get Ready For Your Exam: Psalm 138:23-24

“God, examine me and know my heart;
       test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 24 See if there is any bad thing in me.
       Lead me on the road to everlasting life.”

Psalm 138:23-24,  NCV

 

“Examine me |  Test me | See me | Lead me.”  When we think about an examination, we are never happy or relaxed about it.  In our thinking an examination could mean the exposure of weakness.  And that is exactly what we want to avoid.  Funny though, the psalmist puts himself under the microscope.  He invites full disclosure, he anticipates God’s x-ray machine.  He wants it.

But his life isn’t perfect or complete.  There are fears, and anxieties laying deep inside his heart.  Many times this would divide us, and split us from Him.  Anxiety will often become a strong wall, that would grow into an issue of some significance.  The psalmist moves into God’s presence.  So much in him had to be extracted.  Understanding that the Father is incredibly aware of us is only the first step.

Examine me |  Test me | See me | Lead me.  Four words that we must get to know.  The Christian life “pivots” on these four words. The four brought together, get dynamically linked into our hearts.  These four concepts will become quite critical as we come closer to Him.  There is a synergy, when the elements of discipleship are mixed together.  For example, if we extract “the examine me” part of this equation, we will not be able to conclude the situations we face very effectively.

I once made a couple loaves of bread where I mistakenly substituted sugar instead of flour.  I was frustrated because the lump of dough, was not responding.  So what did I do?  I added more “flour” which was really powered sugar, from the unmarked canister.  Later, what I buried in the backyard was a big lump of something that would never, ever work.   Not even if I wished it very hard.

Discipleship must always be intimacy at its a basic level. 

That takes God examining my life, full disclosure of everything.  We need to be intimate, by being astonishingly open to Him.  The things we share will be confidential.  And it will also be essential.

“May it be the real me who finds the real You.”

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Take a Second Look at Psalm 37:4: The Pearl of Great Price

4 “Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Psalm 37:4

Sometimes an interpretation of a biblical passage is like a ravenous dog that is loose and wreaking havoc in the Body of Christ. It needs to be put on a leash, kenneled, and taken to dog obedience school before it’s ready to be out in public again. Such is the case with popular interpretations of Psalm 37:4.

When I was a new Christian in the 1980s, I  held up to close scrutiny what is/was called the Prosperity Gospel and found that they used this verse to justify what could only be described as idolatrous materialism. Their basic premise was that if you love God, he will give you the lifestyle of the rich and famous or at least make sure you make the jump from poverty to middle class or middle class to upper–middle class and even beyond. Mansions, Mercedes Benz cars, Armani suits, and diamond rings were all part of this religious landscape. God became their Shield and Butler. As in Paul’s day, godliness was associated with financial gain.

Such a deceptive doctrine could only be developed in a country like the US that has had unparalleled economic prosperity in the history of the world since World War II. Sometimes being insulated from poverty for extended periods becomes the spiritual Petri dish for all manner of false doctrines. Such teachings did not gain much of a following in America during the Great Depression in the 1930s or in war–torn countries like Poland that have a history of suffering material want under authoritarian regimes.

Then I took a look at the interpretation of this verse in church circles that do not belong to the Prosperity Gospel.  In general, these circles avoided gross materialism but still had one thing in common with the “name and claim it, confess it and possess it” crowd: the desires of the heart that God grants the believer were more often than not created things.The early chapters of Genesis tell us that God’s creation is good and he likes to share that goodness with his children. Spouses, homes, jobs, vacations,  and landing trophy–sized rainbow trout are all part of his generosity.

 What is not underscored enough in the Church are the desires of our heart that are related to the Uncreatedour relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Psalm 37:4 has an inescapable theo–logic. Question: If I delight in the Lord, then what are going to be the desires of my heart? Answer: What I delight in–God himself; the Giver more than the gifts. 

The greatest gift God can give us is when he gives himself to us in intimate, loving communion. This is the Pearl of Great Price. The First Adam gave Eve a rib; the Second Adam (Christ) gives us his Body and Blood (John 6:53, 54) in an offer of intimacy that goes beyond anything in the biblical narrative. The two become one; we become flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone (Genesis 2:23). We become a partaker of his divine nature (II Peter 1:4) and begin to resemble him in:

  1. Character: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self–control. (Galatians 5:22,23)
  2. Power: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues and interpretation.
  3. The Three Offices of the Old Testament: Prophet, Priest, and King.
  4. Supernatural Graces Mentioned in Isaiah 11:1–2: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and the fear of God.

Ever notice how couples in long, happy marriages start to look like each other? We enter into a similar experience with Christ. Out of our deep communion with him, we are conformed to his image and likeness and become the Face of Christ to the watching world, a Bride preparing herself for a wedding feast on the other side of eternity.

your brother,

Jonathan

As Good As It Gets: Psalm 66:1-5

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1 Shout joyful praises to God, all the earth!
    Sing about the glory of his name!
    Tell the world how glorious he is.ee
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    Your enemies cringe before your mighty power.
Everything on earth will worship you;
    they will sing your praises,
    shouting your name in glorious songs.” Interlude

Come and see what our God has done,
    what awesome miracles he performs for people!

There is an idyllic here. We trample down an idea of what should be, but not quite yet. Many things are being thrown apart, and a certain reality is being infused by our steady awareness.  We stand alert of such incredible awareness. It’s about the “goose-pimple” awareness that affects us sometimes turns into an object of praise.

So much is being declared. The power of the Lord is being praised, and we should back off and let Him take our praise in. God does absorb our praise and worship. He needs nothing, but takes all we give Him.

“Shout ‘ is a loud word. We are speaking out loud here. And we rest in all that is spoken. We suddenly start speaking in the very language of heaven. The things God does is worthy of our praise, we look upon them and we are astounded. Only He can merit such devotion.

The basic idea here spins off of the idea of worship. Can we really praise him who rules a complicated universe? So much is foul, and things let askew are misplaced. Where is the God who has arranged these things? This psalm is been a voice for sanity.

We worship because it is what we should do so. Yet we seem to accrue obstacles to block our worship of such a fine God. Why is this? Perhaps it is we feel threatened. He seems to claim too much glory, and after all, can’t we share? But this is not ‘biblical’ nor is it logical. We are not God, nor will we ever be.

He claims to do miracles among His people (v. 5). brings Perhaps that alone is reason to accept His ongoing care over our souls. He has cared over us, far more than we admit. We are His, and we will accept no other God.

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Escaping Death, Psalms 116

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Thanksgiving for Escaping Death

 1 I love the Lord, 

       because he listens to my prayers for help.
 2 He paid attention to me, 
       so I will call to him for help as long as I live.
 3 The ropes of death bound me, 
       and the fear of the grave took hold of me. 
       I was troubled and sad.
 4 Then I called out the name of the Lord. 
       I said, “Please, Lord, save me!” 

 5 The Lord is kind and does what is right; 
       our God is merciful. 
 6 The Lord watches over the foolish; 
       when I was helpless, he saved me.
 7 I said to myself, “Relax, 
       because the Lord takes care of you.”
 8 Lord, you saved me from death. 
       You stopped my eyes from crying; 
       you kept me from being defeated.
 9 So I will walk with the Lord 
       in the land of the living.
 10 I believed, so I said, 
       “I am completely ruined.”
 11 In my distress I said, 
       “All people are liars.” 

 12 What can I give the Lord 
       for all the good things he has given to me? 
 13 I will lift up the cup of salvation, 
       and I will pray to the Lord.
 14 I will give the Lord what I promised 
       in front of all his people. 

 15 The death of one that belongs to the Lord 
       is precious in his sight. 
 16 Lord, I am your servant; 
       I am your servant and the son of your female servant. 
       You have freed me from my chains.
 17 I will give you an offering to show thanks to you, 
       and I will pray to the Lord.
 18 I will give the Lord what I promised 
       in front of all his people, 
 19 in the Temple courtyards 
       in Jerusalem. 

    Praise the Lord!

Really, no one knows for sure who the writer of Psalm 116 was. Some advance the idea that it was Hezekiah,and others firmly believe it was David. What I see that it was probably the former, but hey– all I know it was a godly man with a holy perspective regarding many things.

This Psalm is quite profound. It also has a deep awareness of things that are significant. We see that the writer has a discernment and awareness to see his heart and the things that are important. Psalm 116 is a masterpiece, the writer “shapes” things that are significant, and then he intends to let us know what he has been processing. And it’s a beauty!

Because of the length of this particular psalm I will simply attempt to think about it in a broader  sense.

Commentary

V.1 is a declaration to the world of his relationship to the Father. Things are quite obvious and exceptionally clear about things that really matter. The psalmist puts tremendous value on an attentive deity.

Vv. 2-4, comes directly at us,  the writer seems to be terribly aware of two things. The first, is the Father’s awareness of his cry. He is sadly desperate and quite aware that everything he calls out for, hinges on the Father’s action on his behalf.

The Father builds within him a confidence and assurance. The writer fully understands the myriad of attack on his soul. He sees cords that are wrapped on him. These cords are quite problematic, and to emphasize this situation he develops a deep and sincere “fear of death and dying.” Many believers, who are aware and sure, “hiccup” at this point. Death can never be handled without faith. But there is a breakthrough of sorts. He pierces his own apathy and finds his voice.  Quivering and quavering his voice is heard in the halls of heaven, “Please, Lord, save me!” 

Vv. 5-7 creates an assurance of the character of God. All that he knows about Him is that He can be trusted, no matter what! The key words are “kind”, “right” and “merciful”. This knowledge does not come to us except by the dealings of God inside our hearts.

V. 8 illuminates the realization that God has intervened, “saved” and “stopped” and “kept”. These are not minor things. They all require an action of God. He is the only one who can intervene. All I can say, is that His active presence changes everything.

V. 9 is the quiet sense of a person who is trusting the Father to be the Father.

V. 10-11 are difficult. They don’t work out smoothly in our New Testament theology of faith. Today, when we read them they are chopped up and rather odd. I suppose we can try to milk “the old cow” but I don’t think we will get much.

V. 12-14 shouts “gratitude”. Somehow the work of the Holy Spirit has done something. The writer jumps into this place where he enters his gratitude and appreciation of everything that has been done for him. He seems eager to show the goodness that has now come his way. There is a sense here of declaring to others the work of God inside his heart. If necessary he will do this publicly.

V. 15, this is indeed a revelation. Many of us wrestle almost continually with the subject of “death.” In hard moments, we struggle quite deeply (and yet subliminally) with dying. It is the dog who can’t stop nibbling at our heels.

V. 16 is nothing less then a declaration. In the mind of the writer, he knows his place. He won’t reach for the “top shelf”. He absolutely understands who he is and isn’t. Such a work is being done that he would never ever dream of being someone he really isn’t.

V. 17 is his declaration that the Father has done an exceptional work inside. The writer knows this, and he just won’t let it slide away. His life becomes deeply saturated with “thanks” and “prayer.” And then I say “whoa!” My own life is quite shallow, and it comes no where close to the psalmist

V. 18, “I will give the Lord what I promised  in front of all his people” Sometimes we , out of necessity, punch out the things which are not only important, but quite significant. “Giving” is a key word. And “promised” is another. (Strange, they are so close to each other, in this verse.) But the writer doesn’t process these issues, he only flows with them.

V. 19 focuses us at whatever might happen. The writer completely understands the importance and the significance of God’s Temple in Jerusalem. In a sense, he solidifies this particular place, as the accurate arena where all of the above is processed and configured. It all ends with a “praise to the Lord.” I suppose that ultimately this is the place we all end up. We are “praiser’s” or we are not.

ybic,

Bryan

 

I Wear Myself Out With Desire: Psalm 119:17-24

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17 Do good to me, your servant, so I can live, 
       so I can obey your word. 
18 Open my eyes to see 
       the miracles in your teachings. 
19 I am a stranger on earth. 
       Do not hide your commands from me. 
20 I wear myself out with desire 
       for your laws all the time. 
21 You scold proud people; 
       those who ignore your commands are cursed. 
22 Don’t let me be insulted and hated 
       because I keep your rules. 
23 Even if princes speak against me, 
       I, your servant, will think about your demands. 
24 Your rules give me pleasure; 
       they give me good advice. 

Psalm 119:17-24, NCV

Perhaps we wear ourselves out too quickly, as we advance on something good and true. We do try to step up, but we find a need for endurance. Our culture seems to ‘spoon feed’ us, we are sorely lacking in anything that requires any kind of spiritual stamina. From this mindset we simply can’t ever come up with anything fresh or certain. So we just let it slide. We bring it out without any kind of personal adjustments or demands.

I’m convinced we can face Him without any deceitfulness. But somehow we still can’t seem to grasp truth as we should. We seem to live in a ‘bubble’ of our own making. This is a profound sadness, and an incredible loss. We really can’t work tethered to the unreal. As I consider all of this, I must escape this unreality and turn to His sweet goodness into a certain faith.

Sometimes it seems we separate ‘grace’ from effort. But the psalmist suggests we work, “wearing ourselves out with desire.” Perhaps this is asking too much from this generation? What ‘value’ do we put on apprehending the Word? Yes, we are saved by grace– yet is there room for seeking His Word passionately?

 

New Things New, Psalm 136

Behold-I-Make-all-Things-NewBIG

Written to bless God’s people, Psalm 136 takes on the issues of life, and the grind of the day. I hope it encourages you to give thanks and praises to God. If you feel like it, add your own verses. His love endures forever.

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Psalm 136, New Bryan Version

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
When I feel lost and alone
His love endures forever.
When my prayers are not answered:
His love endures forever.

When I have marriage problems,
His love endures forever.
When I’m misunderstood,
His love endures forever.
When my job is a big hassle,
His love endures forever.
When my children go astray—
His love endures forever.
When I can’t pay my bills on time,
His love endures forever.
When my ‘discipleship is in doubt;
His love endures forever.

9 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
10 Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
11 Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.

12 When I just been diagnosed with cancer,
His love endures forever.
13 When I face chronic depression,
His love endures forever.
14 When I am filled with doubt,
His love endures forever.
15 When everyone wants to rip me off–
His love endures forever.
16 When I can’t see the sun for weeks,
His love endures forever.
17 When it seems like its just one thing after another,
His love endures forever.

Selah

Tripping Over the Museum: Psalm 25:15–18

14 The Lord is a friend to those who fear him.
    He teaches them his covenant.
15 My eyes are always on the Lord,
    for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies.

16 Turn to me and have mercy,
    for I am alone and in deep distress.
17 My problems go from bad to worse.
    Oh, save me from them all!
18 Feel my pain and see my trouble.
    Forgive all my sins.

Psalm 25:14–18, NLT

These are delicate verses, each one is soaked with salty tears. We slam through them so quickly, and completely disregard the meaning and purpose. It would be like taking a 10 minute tour of the National Gallery in London.

The content of these five verses alone are made sacred by suffering. They seep blood and stink of sweat. Their source is found in a broken and hurting heart (which makes up most of the human race.) Take these four verses, and compare just then with any other religious texts. There is an obvious dearth between the Christian Bible and anything coming out of comparative world religions.

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Commentary

V.14., Golly. The very well-being of this Psalm focuses on this  conspicuous fact. You just might say that our faith also depends on this– being a true friend with God. Indirectly this connects us with Abraham– he was known as “a  friend of God.” He also is brightly tutored into God’s covenant and His ways. (See James 2:23.)

V. 15,  the writer tells us things we must know about himself. There is a settled fact in his mind; he is always looking for the heart of God. He diligently continues to look at his Father’s eyes. I get the sense that this is one of those enduring habits he had decided to do “before” and he has trained his eyes to look. The idea is that there are “traps” just accentuate the urgent need. Traps only intensify the deep urgency of getting it right (and avoiding pain.)

V. 16, is  such a personal prayer to a personal God. (This is what I meant earlier when I talked about the superiority of the Christian writings.) The persistent question must be asked, “How personal is God to your soul?” Can you be this truthful or honest with Allah, or the Buddha? Are you just connecting on a superficial level, or our you in a true intimacy with the true God? Christians will talk about a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” This phrase tries very hard to make an intimacy real and authentic.

V. 17, ” My problems go from bad to worse.  Oh, save me from them all!”
Wondering  this will lead you through a lot of twisted theology, and logical anxiety. The stark reality is our faith was never meant to relieve us from the issues of living life. The psalmist seems to think that things may have gotten worse. I’ve read somewhere that birds in a cage will actually sing louder. It strikes me that the purpose of life is not to find your freedom– but your master. (We easily look for “so-called” freedom.)

V. 18, Feel my pain and see my trouble.  Forgive all my sins.”  Most of us would agree. We must put the “best foot forward.” We really try to clean up, and do the right things to be accepted by God. Hide the dirty dishes in the oven, and spray air freshener all over. But, this is pretty much unacceptable.

But acceptance by this (neurotic behavior) is never the basis for His love. It can’t be! We will never do enough good things to outweigh our bad. God has “junked” His scales, you will never see them in His courts. He will never measure the good you’ve done. And the all the bad– well, that has been dropped into the Mariana Trench.

“He will again have compassion on us;
He will tread our iniquities under foot.
Yes, You will cast all their sins
Into the depths of the sea.’

(Micah 7:19)

(“I want the presence of God Himself, or I don’t want anything at all to do with religion… I want all that God has or I don’t want any.” )
― A.W. Tozer

kyrie eleison, Bryan

(Lord, have mercy on us)

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